AA2A – Artists Access to Art Colleges

Just as I was finishing my MA last year I found out I had a place on the AA2A scheme in the University of Central Lancashire’s print department. A year on, I wanted to sum up my thoughts about the scheme and share my experiences – the deadlines are coming up for the next round of placements, and I’d urge anyone who’s considering applying to go for it. 

AA2A exists to give artists and designers access to university facilities to work on a specific project or area of research and to give students and staff the chance to have practising artists around. As an MA student I found it really useful to pick the brains of the AA2A artists I met – I much prefer the organic, unstructured interactions you have when you spend the day printing next to someone to the formal interviews you’re encouraged to conduct for pieces of academic writing. There’s something nice about a print studio that does away with hierarchy and puts you all on the same level of just being People who Love to Print. 

I’m sure all art colleges have their own sense of community, but UCLan’s print department is a pretty special place. It has a steady flow of interesting people passing through who are all involved with the department in a number of ways – foundation, BA, MA and PhD students, staff, Art Lab (a collective of printmakers) members, AA2A artists and various other visiting artists and ex-students. The atmosphere is instantly welcoming, and you’ll be introduced to new faces and invited along to social things immediately. 

The print technicians, Tracy Hill and Magda Stawarska-Beavan who keep the department running smoothly, go way above and beyond to provide support, laughs and coffee, as well as being hugely inspiring artists themselves. 

Meeting and working alongside the three other AA2A artists - David Armes, Jamie Barnes and Benedict Rutherford  has been an absolute pleasure – they’ve been doing this longer than me and I’ve learnt a lot from them all. We’ve had a few evenings in the pub and lots of time for bonding in the studio, delivered a lecture together and are holding a group exhibition in November. As a group, we've also been awarded a bursary from Pushing Print to collaborate on a zine for our exhibition. Our student rep, Tina Dempsey, was great at keeping us all in order whilst organising various opportunities for students to find out about what we were doing. I’m delighted to be collaborating with Tina on some work later this year. 

My work over the academic year broadly fell into three areas: an intense two-week period where I created an installation in the corridor of the print studio; a body of work produced specifically for selling; and an exploratory body of work that gave me the chance to try out some ideas that had been floating around my head for a while. Interspersed with all this were various projects and bits and bobs that I did for fun. The time and space that the placement gave me to develop my own practice in this way felt like a real luxury – it gave me just the right balance of freedom and structure. 

If this reads as being a bit gushing, it’s because it was one of the best things I’ve ever done – it gave me new friends, new opportunities, a sense of belonging, lots of laughing and a new confidence in myself and my work… I genuinely can’t recommend the experience enough. 

The deadlines for the 2015/16 AA2A placements are coming up over the next few weeks – there’s a list of all the participating colleges here. Get applying!  

My day in The Little Beach Hut of Dreams

Last week I spent a day being a Dreamer in Residence in The Little Beach Hut of Dreams, thanks to Do What You Love. Dreamers in Residence are encouraged to use the day ‘to ponder and plan, to watch the waves or stare at the huge open sky’. Which is exactly what I was hoping to do. 

I was welcomed into the beach hut on Brighton seafront by Rose, who showed me round the two square metres of loveliness and then left me to my day of dreaming. 

I know that I think better when I’m occupied so I brought a sketchbook and some marker pens, with the idea of doing some really simple, repetitive patterns that would occupy the bit of my brain that needs to make decisions, while the rest of it would be free to wander around some of the ideas and thoughts that I haven’t had time to focus on for a while. 

I also brought my camera, which I pointed straight out to sea and set up to take photos every 30 seconds. I wanted to document my day but didn’t want it to detract from my time there, so leaving my camera to do the work all by itself seemed perfect. And this is what it saw: 

After spending some time people watching and sea watching, I realised that actually I was a bit of a spectacle myself and lots of people wanted to talk about what I was doing. So, after a few lovely but distracting chats, I got the pens out. 

I went for repetitive, brightly coloured dots – about 15,500 of them in fact. One of the reasons I like to work with pattern is that I think the order created by repetition can be calming and reassuring. In my work I like to disrupt this order, which for me is where a pattern becomes really exciting, but on this day I just wanted the calming element. So I sat, and drew little dots, letting my intuition choose which colours went where, and as I did it I thought about lots of things – big things and little things – that hadn’t had the attention they deserved in a while. And while that sort of thinking can often be stressful, I actually found myself feeling completely calm and content. 

Drawing the dots was more about the activity than the final result, but it's given me some ideas for making really simple pattern tiles that can be combined in loads of different ways to create a final pattern that looks as if it is repeated, but is actually different every time it's put together. I (really!) hadn't meant to 'work' in the beach hut but it was a bonus to come away with new ideas.  

Without wanting to do too much public soul-baring, a big part of the day for me was making some peace with my hometown of Brighton, somewhere that’s seen some of my most and least happy times and is always a bit emotional to visit. The opportunity to indulge myself in processing some of my thoughts and memories there was pretty cathartic. 

And before I knew it, there was only an hour left. At which point I decided to treat myself to an hour of reading the book I’d just started, and I sat out in the deck chair and lost myself in the world of Theo Decker

Rose came to lock up at the end of the day, and I went on my way, with a dreamy grin, to meet an old friend for dinner. 

I can’t recommend a day in The Little Beach Hut of Dreams enough, and you can sign up to hear when next year’s applications open here.   

The Little Beach Hut of Dreams

I’m really excited, because tomorrow I get to spend the day at The Little Beach Hut of Dreams

The beach hut, on Hove seafront, was set up by Beth Kempton, who runs the Do What You Love website, which has courses and resources to help you find ways to follow your dreams, whatever they may be. It’s all pretty close to my heart, as three years ago I packed in my proper job and moved away from London to go freelance and follow my own dream of working in a more creative field. I started off by doing an MA in Surface Pattern, going into it with a pretty open mind about where it would take me – I didn’t know what I was aiming for, but knew it would be fun to find out. I’ve now found myself working as an artist, using pattern in lots of different forms, places and contexts. It turned out to be absolutely the right choice for me and I wish I’d been able to be a bit braver about changing the course my life was taking earlier on. 

Do What You Love also have links to the surface pattern world, collaborating with Rachael Taylor on The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design courses and the lovely MOYO magazine

So when I saw the opportunity to apply to be a Dreamer in Residence at the beach hut, it all seemed to make sense. I lived in Brighton or nearby for a lot of my life, so my visits here now are always a hectic whirlwind of seeing friends and family. The idea of spending a quiet day in a beach hut, looking out to sea and totally indulging myself sounds like absolute bliss. 

Part of the reason I wanted to apply was that I haven’t given myself time to stop and think about how much life has changed in the last few years. Juggling freelance work, an MA, building a life somewhere new and now navigating my way through my first few residencies and commissions hasn't left much time for quiet reflection, and that’s what I’m planning to do tomorrow. I’ve got a few little activities planned, as I seem to think better when I’m occupied, but I’m going into it with an open mind and will do whatever takes my fancy. I’m going to shut out the rest of the world by turning off my phone (eek!) but I’ll let you know how I’ve got on in a few days’ time… 

(Photos by Holly Booth)

In Certain Places: Day 11

I've been busy installing my work today - there are vinyl patterns on windows, walls, mirrors, doors and other little corners I've found. I've also handprinted some wallpaper and fabric, and made a new lampshade for under the stairs. Here are a few photos of some of the vinyl pieces, with lots more to follow when everything's set up (and I've got more used to the challenge of photographing white-on-white designs)... 

In Certain Places: Day 7

Halfway through my Project at In Certain Places, I’ve just got to a point where my ideas have slotted into place (phew!). I suddenly went from this: 

to this in the space of an hour:

Most of last week was spent on research – it’s a bit of a different starting point for me, as I’m not working with existing visual detail but thinking more about the history of the house I’m working in. 

I’ve always found history much easier to understand if I think about the human side of it – people’s stories and lives – so I started researching the family who lived in the house around when it was first built (mid 19th century ish). I’ve also been reading about the development of the area and of Preston itself over that time. 

Preston’s population increased dramatically with the industrial revolution and development of the cotton mills in the town – from 17,000 in 1811 to 117,000 in 1911. Houses like 38 St Peter’s Street were built to house the many mill workers, dressmakers, shoemakers, servants and labourers who worked there, but conditions were cramped and dirty, with the constant danger of cholera and typhus. Preston had the highest rate of infant mortality in England at the turn of the 20th century, and according to the census records, the Aspinwall family who lived in the house lost at least two children under the age of five. Two of their sons did survive though and grew up to be iron fitters/joiners. 

While this was happening, the Arts and Crafts movement was seeking to reject the mass production brought about by the industrial revolution, in part in reaction to the grim and dangerous working and living conditions that it brought. While the work of artists such as William Morris would not have been found in 38 St Peter’s Street at the time, I’m interested in the way that the Aspinwalls’ lives embodied what the movement was fighting against. 

While there are a lot of ideas here that I’d love to investigate further, I’ve only got a week, so at this stage I need to concentrate on producing work to show on Friday and save up all those other thoughts for a future project. 

My plan is to bring some of the sorts of patterns that were produced by the artists of the Arts and Crafts movement to 38 St Peter’s Street, but to make sure it’s in keeping with the white paint and somewhat institutional feel, I’m going to produce all my designs in white. They’ll be visible, but will take a bit of effort to find. 

As a pattern designer, trying to emulate any kind of William-Morris-style designs feels a bit ridiculous – they are so well crafted that anything else is going to be a poor imitation – but because of that it’s also a bit of a treat to indulge in working with some of his pattern-related rules and see what I come up with. The ‘energy of nature’ was key to Morris’s pattern designs, so I started off by doing some quick sketches of the houseplants that were part of Steph Fletcher’s In Certain Places work and producing some repeating patterns the ‘old-fashioned’ way by cutting and sticking (Photoshop and Illustrator do this at the click of a button).

I’ve included a few snaps below, but will leave it at that for now, with more photos to follow this week as the actual making starts to happen.